How to Lead Millennials

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One of the largest generations in history is entering the workforce; are you ready to lead them? As an adjunct professor teaching graduate students at NYU, our own Steve Facini shared these insights with me on How to Lead Millennials:

This generation has many names, but it is most commonly referred to as Generation Y or simply, millennials. Up to 68% of managers say that it is difficult for their organizations to manage millennials. This statistic demonstrates that there is a significant difference between how we lead our current employees and how we should lead this next generation. Let’s take a look at two questions to help prepare your organization for millennials as they enter the workplace.

1. What characteristics make Generation Y unique?

Generation Y is the largest generation in the history of the United States and consists of more than 80,000 millennials born between 1980 and 1999. Some of the key events that occurred during their formative years are 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, school shootings, the recession, the fall of Enron, and the impeachment of a president. These events have played a role in shaping Generation Y. Here are a few unique characteristics of millennials from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation:

• Technologically Savvy

Generation Y has grown up inundated with technology to the point where they seem to have a digital sixth sense. This has impacted the way they approach almost every aspect of life – from searching for a full-time job to finding a date on a Friday night.

• Optimistic

Millennials have a very optimistic outlook on life. For example, 41% say they are satisfied with the way things are going in the country compared to 26% of people over 30. Considering the economic, social, and political state that millennials grew up in, this statistic surprises me.

• Pro-Diversity

Generation Y is the most diverse generation the United States has ever seen. This increase in diversity has lead 47% of millennials to be tolerant of other races and groups. This is significantly higher than the 19% of older generations.

• Masters of Self-Expression

Millennials love to express themselves publicly. 75% have a profile on a social networking site, 38% have one to six tattoos, and 20% have posted a video of themselves online. They have the confidence and the means to uniquely express themselves.
It is important to consider these characteristics as we determine how to lead millennials in our organizations. This brings us to our second question.

2. How do we effectively lead millennials in the workplace?

The differences between Generation Y and older generations frequently cause major issues throughout corporations. We do not need to restructure our entire organizations to accommodate millennials, but it will be beneficial to adapt our leadership style to effectively engage them. Here are four tips from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School on how to engage millennials in the workplace:

• Coach

Millennials view managers as coaches and look to them for clear guidelines and frequent feedback on projects. Developing close relationships by clearly defining goals builds trust and retains young employees.

• Collaborate

Millennials are natural collaborators and capitalizing on this can increase creativity and productivity throughout your organization. The majority of Generation Y grew up playing team sports and the character traits teamwork produces transfers to many areas of life. Creating opportunities for millennials to collaborate will help you bring out the best of Generation Y.

• Measure

Communicating to millennials how you are assessing their performance will benefit both you and your young employees. As the most educated generation in the history of the United States, they are used to being graded on performance. Clear and consistent assessments will improve the quality and accuracy of their work.

• Motivate

Millennials tend to be motivated by a comfortable work environment that promotes output over input. They are excited to contribute, but a fear of being criticized frequently holds them back. As a leader, it is key for you to communicate to young employees that their contributions matter.

These tips are just a starting point as you begin leading Generation Y. Luckily there is no lack of information as it is the most researched generation to date! For more information on millennials check out the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Millennial Generation Research Review. What challenges and successes have you encountered as this next generation of leaders enters your organization?

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